Limited Incomes: A Recipe for Hunger

Do you know how much it costs to follow a healthy diet in Ontario?  If you are not sure and want to find out, you can ask your local health unit, they have the answers.  In fact, they have been gathering answers to this question for the past 6 years throughout the province, and for close to 25 years here in Peterborough.

How do they figure it out?  They visit local stores and cost out 67 food items based on the nutritional guidelines presented in Canada's Food Guide.  In Peterborough, the process takes place in 7 stores located throughout the region.  The list of items includes vegetables and fruit, meats, fish, dairy products, frozen produce, flour, pasta, rice, crackers, oil and salad dressing.  Processed foods, for the most part are not included in the mix.

It's important to know as well that the research is based on the premise that you live in a place equipped with at least a fridge, a stove, and some rudimentary cooking supplies, that you benefit from basic cooking skills and have easy access to a grocery store.


With this information in hand, health unit staff are able to establish a benchmark cost of healthy eating.  They then calculate the cost of the basket according to gender and age and adjust the final number based on the composition of the household.  Through this rigorous research, we learn that in our community, a heterosexual family of four with two children would need a minimum of $850 a month to eat a healthy diet.

monthly cost of a nutritious food basket monthly cost of a nutritious food basket


Once you know how much it actually costs to buy a healthy diet for yourself and your family, you can see whether you can afford to eat healthy.  That is the most critical facet of this valuable tool:  to document the affordability and accessibility of healthy food.

To assess who can purchase a healthy diet in our community, the research highlights concrete scenarios by combining income data with average shelter expenses along with the cost of a nutritious diet, as outlined in the following scenarios.

Peterborough Nutritious Food Basket Scenarios Peterborough Nutritious Food Basket Scenarios


This chart clearly documents that, overwhelmingly, people on social assistance cannot afford to eat a healthy diet.  In fact, after paying his rent, a single man on Ontario Works is left with a mere $41 a month to pay for food and other necessities!

cost of a nutritious diet for a single man

As the scenarios illustrate, a family of four with one minimum wage earner cannot afford a nutritious food basket.  The family would need to spend a third of its income to afford a healthy diet, while a family of two employed parents earning a median income only need to allocate 12% of its income to buy nutritious food.

Limited Incomes:  A Recipe For Hunger is a precious tool.  It makes abundantly evident that, in our region, too many residents cannot purchase the healthy food they and their family need to reach their potential.

Not being able to access a nutritious diet puts people at risk for a wide range of substantial challenges.  Poor nutrition impairs our daily health and well-being.  It reduces our ability to be active and lead a meaningful life.  It leads us to become more vulnerable to depression, stress, fatigue, and over the long term, can lead to chronic illnesses, strokes and some forms of cancers.

How can we, as a community, address this health inequity?  What can we do to ensure that the more than 15,500 city and county residents whose income is too limited gain access to food security?


Excellent. I was especially taken with the fact that the report includes that not everyone has access to a kitchen, cooking implements and cooking/nutritional skills makes this a well researched document. Did you know that people have had to use the window ledge during the cold months to try and keep food? As a person who barely exists in poverty, I am grateful for this report. Now I can only hope that the people with power will read this.